Synod closing with the joy of God’s marvels

And so ends the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, or the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, as it is referred to in a rather handier fashion. A closing Mass yesterday wrapped up the three weeks of deliberations that, for now, resulted in a Message (available in Dutch as well) as composed by the commission chaired by Cardinal Betori and Cardinal-designate Tagle, and a set of 58 propositions to the Holy Father, which the latter will craft into a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will probably see the light of day in a year or more. This will the final and concluding document of the Synod Assembly, but of course there is no reason before waiting to reflect on what has already been said and proposed, or to put some of it in practice. Because words are all fine, but if they don’t become reality, there is little point to them.

Reflecting, like I did in my previous blog post, on blind Bartimaeus, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily, referred to what St. Augustine said about this Biblical character, that he was a man fallen from prosperity into  misfortune:

“This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think.  It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here.  From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives.  These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence.  They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path.  It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization.  This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.”

 And, I can’t help but thinking, is the Holy Father perhaps thinking along similar lines as the late Cardinal Martini, when he speaks about “smouldering cinders”, under ashes or not?

Pope Benedict mentions three pastoral themes that apparently struck him during the Synod’s proceedings (and the Holy Father himself was perhaps one of the most active participants, taking copious notes during the interventions and being far more than just a presiding pope): the importance of the sacraments of initiation; the Missio ad gentes; and the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. All are important themes for the new evangelisation.

And perhaps Bartimaeus, although never canonised – in fact, nothing is known of him beyond his appearance in the Gospel of Mark – can still be something of a patron for the new evangelisation, for as the Holy Father says:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Bartimaeus, on regaining his sight from Jesus, joined the crowd of disciples, which must certainly have included others like him, who had been healed by the Master. New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ. And characteristic of them all is a joyful heart that cries out with the Psalmist: “What marvels the Lord worked for us: indeed we were glad” (Ps 125:3).”

Seeing Christ, as shown by a blind man

They reached Jericho; and as he left Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus – that is, the son of Timaeus – a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and cry out, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man over. ‘Courage,’ they said, ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘Rabbuni, let me see again.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And at once his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

Yesterday we heard this simple and powerful Gospel passage (Mark 10:46-52) in the celebration of Mass. The blind beggar Bartimaeus happens to be in the right place at the right time. Or is he?

In his homily Cardinal Eijk, who offered Mass at our cathedral for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of its dedication, told us that that wasn’t the case. It was not a matter of chance that Bartimaeus happened to be sitting in the street through which Jesus passed on His way out of Jericho. For Jesus passes us every day. It is up to us to see and recognise Him, something that Bartimaeus, despite being blind, managed to do.

He saw with the eyes of faith, thus recognising Jesus. The next step that he took, and which has to be a step we all should take, is to call out, to confirm the recognition to ourselves, to Christ and to everyone around us. Bartimaeus did so in a very simple form: “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”. But it is deceptively simple. Bartimaeus words were a short but very effective prayer, one that we could do worse than use every now and then.

Bartimaeus shows us that we can see and recognise Jesus every day, and we should not hesitate to speak to Him, in prayer. And prayer can be very short and simple without losing any of its intent and power.

Some that are blind can see clearly, and some that have their sight are blinded by vision.

Art credit: Bartimaeus, by Harold Copping